Web dev at the end of the world, from Hveragerði, Iceland

Good books don’t win

The editorial fallacy is the belief that all of a publisher’s strategic problems can be solved by pursuing and publishing the finest books and articles. (From The Editorial Fallacy)

This is a belief that seems to be pervasive among large sections of the publishing industry. It’s also a very mistaken belief. The problem isn’t just with the idea that the only thing a publisher needs to do to succeed is publish good books (which is patently untrue) but also with the basic premise.

Namely, what is a good book?

Quality, both of writing and of the works as a whole, isn’t such a clear cut subject. It’s an issue I’ve been writing about for a while.

What is good or bad is meaningless unless you know what the audience is. There is no abstract ideal for writing that lets you decide that this or that book is good, no matter the audience. Language varies too much for that. People vary too much for that.

Most modern literature buffs find genre writing to be pedestrian.

I find most modern literature to be plotless, narcissistic, and the writing tends to be undisciplined.

Some people think that any story with a lead that is female or a person of colour is automatically bad. These people may objectively be idiots but those stories clearly are never going to work for a readership that is misogynistic or racist (an issue also known as: Why Reforming Scifi/Fantasy Is Never Going to Work).

I find stories and movies with graphic rape scenes to be traumatic to watch and read. It took me days to recover from watching the Swedish movie Män som hatar kvinnor (also known as Girl with a Dragon Tattoo). Any story that does that to me is bad and no amount of ‘objective’ analysis by fans of those stories will make them good. I accept that they might find it good, but they can’t force me to like it. Any statement about quality is also a statement about perspective.

There is no such thing as objectively good writing or an objectively good book. Language varies too much for that. People vary too much for that.

The only sane thing you can do is to pick an audience and try and make the best thing for them that you can. If you’re lucky, the audience will be larger than you thought.

Quality is just what your readers value. Nothing more. Nothing less.

You can also find me on Mastodon and Bluesky